You know the photo with the green hills and blue skies that everyone had as the background on their Windows Desktop in 2002? That’s what New Zealand looks like 24/7. New Zealand has been a country that was on my bucket list since the day I moved to Australia. So, when a friend reached out to me asking if I wanted to join her and her roommate over mid-semester break, I knew I had to make it work. The night that I arrived back in Melbourne from Thailand, which was around 9:30PM, I went straight home, unpacked my bags and then repacked them and headed right back to the airport, sleeping overnight across the chairs in the waiting room for my 6:00AM flight to Queenstown. Though I was completely exhausted, and the man across from me even commented on my power nap, saying “You looked so peaceful,” this last-minute trip was the best decision I’d made that week.
Upon arriving in Queenstown, I was picked up by my two friends from Chile, Elisa and Gracia. The first adventure on our list was to hike the Skyline. Now, you could take a ski lift to the top instead, but we weren’t weak (just poor). The hike was about 45 minutes long, but directly up the mountain, so it was quite the workout, but the view made it all worth it.
Once we reached the top, I got myself a croissant as we watched people enjoying the luge and taking in New Zealand’s beauty. It was such a beautiful day and a great start to the week. After walking back down, which could arguably have been even more difficult than walking up, we took a tour around the small town and stopped for a treat at the ice cream shop while walking along the water’s edge and listening to some local artists before heading back to the hostel for a quick sleep before a long day of driving.
We left the hostel at about 7:00AM the next morning and began our journey driving our rental car up the west coast of the South Island. We planned to make some pit stops along the way, but with the rainy weather, none of us were too keen to get out of the comfort of the car. Even so, we tried to make a stop at the Blue Pools, which weren’t all they were supposed to be.
In fact, it was moreso like the Brown Pools due to the rain mixing up all of the water. I think my raincoat was the only blue thing we found out there. To top it all off, our highlight of the day, which was supposed to be hiking a glacier, ended up not being possible due to a vital road being closed. So, we then stopped at a small cafe along the way to get some WiFi and grab a snack, then decided to just use this rainy day as our driving day in order to make it closer to Abel Tasman National Park, where we’d have more time to spend the next day.
We stopped at a campsite, but slept in the car since all of us were too tired to set up the tent. This was about as comfortable as it sounds and I felt the pains from cramming myself in the back seat the next morning, watching the sunrise from the beach (which helped, yes).
As it got lighter and we could actually see where we stayed, we found that it was a actually a very cute campground and it even had freshwater sinks and a little library! From here, it was about a 15 minute drive to Tasman National Park, where we caught a water taxi to the get to the beginning of our hiking trail.
It was a four hour hike, but was slow and steady and full of secret coves and waterfalls; I loved it. We stopped at an empty beach along the way to take a dip and eat the lunch we’d brought along before heading back along the trail.
Though we were in rainforest-like trees, every bend was exciting as the view kept getting better and better as we went along. That night, we slept in the car again, but this time parked in an apple orchard in the back of someone’s yard that they’d renamed as a campsite. It was just us, the apples, some cows and a milky way of stars above us.
This was our last night together as a group, since Gracia was staying a few extra days in New Zealand, so she was grabbing a ferry to the North Island. Elisa and I took a plane from Nelson to Auckland, but it was almost a catastrophe because, when we were comparing flights, I realized that, in booking the seven flights I needed for mid-semester break, I’d messed up. I bought the flight on April 19th with JetStar of all companies, so no, I did not get a refund and had to completely buy a new flight which made my bank account cry a little bit. However, at least I realized this sooner than later and was able to stop at a random hostel on the way to Nelson and tell them I needed emergency WiFi as they comforted me with fresh baked apple cinnamon muffins. Now that’s hospitality.
We arrived in Auckland a bit later than expected due to my flight issues, so had to change our plans and spend the evening exploring the inner city and grabbing a coffee for the road. We wasted most of this day traveling, but were able to make it to a nice hostel that night and joined some other backpackers in watching the big Game of Thrones battle on a projector in the garage. I’ll be honest, this was the first episode of Game of Thrones that I’d ever watched, so it was a bit overwhelming with all of the fighting, but Arya Stark, you go girl.
We checked out of the hostel at 10:00AM the next day and headed to a hobbit-themed cafe down the street for brekky before touring the Hobbiton Movie Set.
Both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed on these hills, and it felt so surreal stepping into what felt like a world of the past.
The little hobbit homes were so intricate and we even got to go inside of one. Sorry to ruin the illusion, but every single one of these homes are empty, it’s all effects that make them seem real in the movie. After the tour, our guide bought us all a beer at the Green Dragon Inn and this was the real stuff, not the 1 percent dark drought used during filming to keep the actors sober.
After our tour, we hopped back in the car. I didn’t mind all of the driving because the rolling hills were amazing and I hate to say it, but, Wisconsin: They might have beat us on the cow competition. Fall was just beginning here as well, so the hills were getting all of their colors and the crisp air was just…perfect.
We reached the Waitomo Glowworms Cave around 3:00PM and though we had signed up for a later session, they let us go in early. Our tour guide was the great grandson of the man who originally found and observed these caves way back when. He unlocked the chamber and we followed him in, first checking out the natural architecture of the limestone sculptures and then hopping onto a boat to row into complete and quiet darkness, getting a chance to observe the millions of glowworms that have made their home on the ceiling of this cave. It was incredible, but, unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photography while in the caves. However, I did find a photo online that -somewhat- brings some justice to the magic inside these caves.
Once arriving at our hostel, we decided to watch Lord of the Rings to see how some of the places we’d been had come to life during filming. This was our last night in New Zealand which was so bittersweet, as I hadn’t slept in my own bed in over 2 weeks, but also was already so in love with this beautiful country that I didn’t want to leave.
We woke up early in hopes to check out Cathedral Cove, where some of the filming from Chronicles of Narnia had been done. Before heading down to the cove, we took a quick stop at Hot Water Beach. Here, you were supposed to be able to dig a hole in the sand to find hot water, essentially making a personal jacuzzi aside the beach. However, when we dug into the sand, it wasn’t really hot at all, which was disappointing. We think that maybe we came at the wrong time, and the hot water could only be found during low tide, but we didn’t have enough time to stay and find out.
It was about a 2 hour drive to Cathedral Cove and our hike may have turned into more of a run, but, we made it! Cathedral Cove was everything I could have wanted and more. On the hike to the beach, we saw some goats grazing on the hills and birds perching on the branches over the blue coast. At the actual cove, I honestly lost my breath, and not just because it was an uphill climb.
It’s just so crazy to me that places like this exist and that some people actually live here and get to see these views every day. Looking out over the coast as we made the drive back to the airport, I knew it wasn’t a goodbye, but a see you later because there’s no way I could go another lifetime without coming back to see the rest of what New Zealand has to offer….did someone say working holiday??